By Michelle Arnopol Cecil, William H. Pittman Professor of Law
Bankruptcy is a federal law practice that focuses on harmonizing the rights of debtors and creditors. The dual goals of bankruptcy are to provide overburdened debtors with a fresh start, free from the debts that forced them into bankruptcy, and to provide for the orderly and efficient payment of creditors. Bankruptcy practice has both a litigation component (such as attending court to obtain approval of a debtor corporation’s plan of reorganization) as well as a transactional component (such as negotiating reaffirmation agreements between debtors and creditors). Bankruptcy is a booming practice, with more than one million individuals and corporations filing for bankruptcy protection every year.
Most attorneys primarily represent either debtors or creditors in bankruptcy, and their practices vary dramatically. Debtors practice includes a high volume of individual and business clients. A debtor’s attorney will help guide the client through the bankruptcy process, preparing the debtor’s bankruptcy petition, gathering necessary financial records, and often drafting a reorganization plan. Debtors practice involves communicating with clients, negotiating with creditors’ attorneys, drafting documents, and arguing motions in bankruptcy court. Debtors’ attorneys say that their practice is rewarding because they are helping people recover from catastrophic financial problems. Debtors’ attorneys usually work in small firms or in solo practice. Creditors’ attorneys represent lenders, insurance companies, and creditors’ committees. The practice is highly specialized and involves drafting motions and other court documents, attending bankruptcy hearings and trials, and negotiating reorganization plans. Creditors’ attorneys usually work in mid-size or large firms. Bankruptcy attorneys can also clerk for bankruptcy judges, work in the U.S. Trustee’s Office, or represent federal or state governmental agencies, including the IRS, the PBGC, the SEC, or a state department of revenue.
Skills needed by bankruptcy attorneys include:
- Expert knowledge of bankruptcy law, as well as secured transactions
- Excellent analytical skills
- Creative problem-solving skills
- Negotiation skills
- Ability to communicate well with clients in stressful situations
- Superior written and oral advocacy skills
Places to seek internships/externships or full time positions include:
- The United States Trustee’s Office (a subdivision of the Department of Justice)
- Bankruptcy judges’ chambers
- The Internal Revenue Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
- The Missouri Department of Revenue